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MPMK's Best Quiet Time Learning Toys - All 10 of these guides are CRAZY comprehensive with so much info.! This one is perfect for when I need to cook, do laundry, etc,

MPMK Gift Guides 2015: Top Learning Toys for Quiet Time & Independent Play

 

I’m so excited to introduce MPMK’s 2015 Christmas Gift Guides! I’ve been working like mad on them (we’re talking some serious man hours here) and, although I will admit that all the researching, photo-editing and linking can be more than a bit tedious, every year the process also gets me incredibly excited about what I want to get my own kids!

This list was a new category for last year and quickly became one of our most popular. When I came up with it, quiet time was on my mind quite a bit in preparation for baby #3. You see, one of the big things I learned about making sure all my kids felt loved once the baby arrived was the importance of just 10 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each of them.

With three kids, though, that’s easier said than done.  Which is why I stocked my arsenal with quiet time toys so awesome that my kiddos don’t even mind being shooed away to play with them when it’s not their special time with me.

As self-serving as this list is, I think you’re gonna love it too.  After all, what busy parent can’t use a stimulating educational toy their child can play with independently every once in a while?  Even if you only have one child, we all have to find ways to squeeze in cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, bills, etc.  How great would it feel to set your child up with an educational activity they love during these times instead of repeatedly defaulting to the TV (no judgement, by the way, I’ve totally been there)?

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2015 Gift Guides here!

Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks – here, arranged by age, are my

Top 11 Learning Toys for Quiet Time & Independent Play 

  1. Play-Doh Case of Colors $9.99 along with this Play-Doh Clay Center with Storage Case $29.99 – Although not completely mess-free, Play-doh really is the ultimate quiet time art toy.  It’s unbelievably engaging to kids of all ages and, as long as you prep your space well with a table cloth or large placemats, allows for quick and easy cleanup.  Of course you can always make your own, but I like to also have a few tubs of the pre-made stuff on hand for when we don’t have time.  I also highly recommend the clay center with storage case.  It’ll give your kids tons of tools to keep them occupied and you a handy place to store them all when they’re done.
  2. Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie $19.99 (kids no longer mouthing toys – 6 years) – This open-ended toy provides hands-on experiences with early math concepts such as sorting, counting, number sense, patterning, and beginning addition and subtraction. The pie has a removable sorting tray that allows children to sort and count the 60 fruits and veggies in many ways. Place the sorting cards into the bottom of the pan to provide visual cues that support success. Jumbo tweezers are included to reinforce fine motor skills needed for handwriting and the top crust can be used as a storage bowl when sorting. This simple toy gets tons and tons of glowing reviews from parents like this, “My two-and-a-half year old has a blast with this. She understands sorting by color or fruit type and she is content doing so for up to an hour at the dining room table while I make dinner. I love finding toys that allow her to think and use her imagination that don’t involve screen time.” and when kids are done with pattern making and sorting, they use it for dramatic play too!
  3. Crocodile Creek Puzzles starting at $5.69 (10 – 24 piece mini puzzles for 2 1/2 – 4 years and 100 piece puzzles in a bag for 5+ years) – These puzzles are really gorgeous and so different from the standard puzzles you’ll find at most big box stores. I especially love the easy storage/travel capabilities of the 100 piece puzzles that come in a small, re-sealable bag and at the price they make great stocking stuffers.
  4. Castle Logix $21.25 (3 – 8 years) and Camelot Jr. $24.00 (4 – 8 years) – The entire line of single player puzzle games from SmartGames gets such stellar reviews that it was hard not to recommend all of them!  The bold colors of these two 3-D wooden castle puzzles especially caught my eye. Assemble the wooden blocks and towers to match the challenges included in the booklet. With simple challenges for inexperienced builders to complex puzzles that will challenge skilled architects, these puzzles serve to develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities. We bought Castle Logix for my then 3 year old last Christmas and she really enjoys playing with it alone for quiet time as well as with me. There are 4 levels of puzzle difficulty which means this game has also done a great job of growing with her and continues to be a favorite a year later.
  5. Educational Insights Design and Drill Activity Center $25.02 (3 – 6 years) – This toy has been a big hit in our house and is consistently one of our very best-sellers each year on the gift guide.  It’s a pattern building toy disguised as a construction toy that has a very cool and easy-to-use working drill.  Both my 3 year old and 5 year old spent lots of quiet time occupied with this toy and we highly recommend it for both girls and boys!
  6. Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $50.21 (3 – 7 years) – Photography is an amazing art to introduce to your children at a young age.  Encouraging them to get behind the lens gives them a different perspective on their surroundings as well as control of their world. Plus, if you tend to take a lot of photos of your kids (ahem), getting them into photography will make them more likely to put up with your shutter bug tendencies. We’ve had a few digital kid cameras in the past and, while the kids have always been excited about them, they all were difficult for the kids to operate on their own and broke easily.  So I’ve been on the lookout for a better designed kid camera for quite a while and this Oppenheimer award winning version is it!  We got it for the kids for Christmas and their favorite feature has to be that with the flip of a switch this camera will instantly project captured images up onto a wall (cool!). Coming in a close second are all the funny clip art images you can superimpose onto the photos within the camera. Big buttons and screen, along with durability, good photo quality, storage of 1000 photos at a time and those instant special effects means the kids continue to reach for it for play time again and again.
  7. Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Books $4.99 (3 – 10 years) – It will truly surprise you how engaged your kids are with these deceptively simple (and inexpensive!) reusable books. My parents gave the kids a couple a few years ago for Christmas and they’ve been a consistent stand-by for us every since.  Each of the books contain a series of background pages and hundreds of various sticker clings that can be positioned over and over on them.  There are tons of book themes to choose from too. Along with quiet time, they are surprisingly useful on long car rides (despite their large size) and we always grab them when heading to someone’s house who doesn’t have younger children and is without toys for them.
  8. Leapfrog Leapreader Reading and Writing System $37.49 (3 – 8 years)  – The leapreader has been a leader amongst educational toys since it’s debut, and with good reason.  My son first got his when he turned 4 and not long after we decided to get one for our 3 year old too.  Both kids (now 4 and 6) still spend large chunks of time “reading” stories with the pen and they used it to practice their letters as well.  This is one of our top tier toys that has really helped instill a love of reading in my kids and never really makes it out of rotation.
  9. LeapFrog LeapPad Series: The Leappad2 Power $59 (3-9 years), The brand new Leappad3 $89.9 (3-9 years), or the Leappad Ultra $129.00 (4 – 9 years) – If you’re looking for an educational introductory wi-fi tablet that’s safe for your kids, the consensus is a LeapPad is what you want. Only LeapPad Ultra has LeapSearch — a secure browser that lets kids explore the content they love. Everything on LeapSearch has been handpicked by a team of learning experts, with parental settings for easy additional fine-tuning. The continually growing collection of eBooks and educational apps available for them foster reading, art, music, language and culture, science, geography, mathematics, and health education but what I really love about them are the possibilities for creating.  They come equipped with two front and back cameras and video recorders allowing children to create masterpieces in the Art Studio, edit pictures they’ve taken in the Photo Studio and create, direct and narrate their own animated movies in the Cartoon Director app. The Ultra is still the largest screen with the most memory. New with the Leappad3 this year is a faster processing speed, a higher resolution camera, and (most impressively), peer-to-peer play. If you’re looking for a deal, though, I’d recommend the Leappad2 Power for $59 (down from $97.51 last year). This model is the same as the, now more expensive, Leappad2 from last year, except with rechargeable batteries and an AC power adapter which lets your kids keep playing while the battery is recharging, a feature the Leappad2 doesn’t have! – just plug in and charge while you continue to play. So here’s the deal right now… last year the LeapPad2 Power was nearly $20 more than the Leappad2 and this year it’s currently $20 less! I don’t understand this but it means that if you’re willing to not get the very latest technology, you can score a great deal. Whichever you chose, you’ll want to protect your investment with a protective case.
  10. Crayola Dry-Erase Activity Center $17.99 (4 – 8 years) and the Zany Play Edition $18.20 (4 – 15 years) – This is one of the quiet time/learning toys I’m MOST excited about this year. It has a basic setup, perfect for travel, consisting of a clear writing and drawing surface that allows you to slide blank or preprinted template cards beneath the window. The board comes with five double-sided templates, offering your child a total of 10 different activities. An additional four-page instruction booklet includes ideas for over 25 additional games and learning exercises. The true genius of this, though, is that you can print literally thousands of worksheets and activity page off of pinterest or your favorite educational sites and instantly turn them into re-usable sheets.  I can see us get a ton of use out of this both on the go and at home.
  11. Perplexus Rookie $17.70 (6 – 8 years) for younger kids, Perplexus Maze Game $18.00 (6 – 12 years), and Perplexus Epic $23.81 (6-12 years) for experienced players – Perplexus looks like one of those games that you just can’t help but pick up and play when it’s sitting on a table in front of you and, judging by the massive amounts of positive reviews, it is.  This one is great for developing fine-motor skills, critical thinking, spatial planning skills, and hand-eye coordination. Plus I love that it’s battery-free and completely self-contained within the sphere so there aren’t any pieces to get lost!

I should mention that one of our very favorite quiet time toys, blocks and building toys, are not included on this list.  That’s because there are so many blocks that I love they have their very own gift guide: Best Blocks & Construction Toys.

Read on for over 40 of my favorite learning toys for quiet time broken down into:

  • Reading & Writing Toys
  • Single Player Games
  • Sensory & Mess-Free Art Supplies
  • Puzzles (Recommended by Age)
  • Magazine Subscriptions (Recommended by Age)

Special Note: In an effort to help you out as much as possible this year, I’ve included both prices and age recommendations for each item.  Please take the age ranges as just that – recommendations – you know your child best after all!  

Also, this time of year prices can fluctuate quite dramatically.  So if you see something a little outside of your price range, it might not be a bad idea to click over and check it out anyway – you may get lucky and catch a sale.

Along those lines, I’m doing my best this year to keep our readers up-to-date on any sales I see on our gift guide items.  To be in the loop, be sure to

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Ready for the big list? Here we go…

The best picks for practicing reading and writing during quiet time - great ideas so mom can get stuff done or spend some one on one time with a sibling

Reading & Writing

Quiet time is ideal for young kids to practice their reading and writing skills and, with fun toys like these, they’ll be jumping at the chance to do so.

  • Leapfrog Leapreader Reading and Writing System $37.49 (3 – 8 years) – The Leapreader has been a leader amongst educational toys since it’s debut, and with good reason.  My son first got his when he turned 4 and not long after we decided to get one for our 3 year old too.  Both kids (now 4 and 6) still spend large chunks of time “reading” stories with the pen and they used it to practice their letters as well.  This is one of our top tier toys that has really helped instill a love of reading in my kids and never really makes it out of rotation.
  • LeapFrog LeapPad Series: The Leappad2 Power $59 (3-9 years), The brand new Leappad3 $89.9 (3-9 years), or the Leappad Ultra $129.00 (4 – 9 years) – If you’re looking for an educational introductory wi-fi tablet that’s safe for your kids, the consensus is a LeapPad is what you want. Only LeapPad Ultra has LeapSearch — a secure browser that lets kids explore the content they love. Everything on LeapSearch has been handpicked by a team of learning experts, with parental settings for easy additional fine-tuning. The continually growing collection of eBooks and educational apps available for them foster reading, art, music, language and culture, science, geography, mathematics, and health education but what I really love about them are the possibilities for creating.  They come equipped with two front and back cameras and video recorders allowing children to create masterpieces in the Art Studio, edit pictures they’ve taken in the Photo Studio and create, direct and narrate their own animated movies in the Cartoon Director app. The Ultra is still the largest screen with the most memory. New with the Leappad3 this year is a faster processing speed, a higher resolution camera, and (most impressively), peer-to-peer play. If you’re looking for a deal, though, I’d recommend the Leappad2 Power for $59 (down from $97.51 last year). This model is the same as the, now more expensive, Leappad2 from last year, except with rechargeable batteries and an AC power adapter which lets your kids keep playing while the battery is recharging, a feature the Leappad2 doesn’t have! – just plug in and charge while you continue to play. So here’s the deal right now… last year the LeapPad2 Power was nearly $20 more than the Leappad2 and this year it’s currently $20 less! I don’t understand this but it means that if you’re willing to not get the very latest technology, you can score a great deal. Whichever you chose, you’ll want to protect your investment with a protective case.
  • Crayola Dry-Erase Activity Center $17.99 (4 – 8 years) and the Zany Play Edition $18.20 (4 – 15 years) – This is one of the quiet time/learning toys I’m MOST excited about this year. It has a basic setup, perfect for travel, consisting of a clear writing and drawing surface that allows you to slide blank or preprinted template cards beneath the window. The board comes with five double-sided templates, offering your child a total of 10 different activities. An additional four-page instruction booklet includes ideas for over 25 additional games and learning exercises. The true genius of this, though, is that you can print literally thousands of worksheets and activity page off of pinterest or your favorite educational sites and instantly turn them into re-usable sheets.  I can see us get a ton of use out of this both on the go and at home.
  • Melissa & Doug Alphabet/Number Write-A-Mat Bundle $10.95 (4 – 8 years) - I picked up this set of laminated mats with special erasable crayons for my son when his interest in writing was just starting to pick up, around age 4.  He really enjoys being able to follow the visual guidance on the mats to practice his numbers and letters without my help.  The coloring portion also extends his focus as he’ll often start-off writing, switch to coloring, and then go back… a great quiet time set.
  • Letter Construction Activity Set $27.56 (5 – 8 years) – Instead of using flashcards (blech), I like to sneak in letter learning wherever I can – on blocks, through stamps, foam letters in the bath, to paint with, etc.  I always thought these large-scale construction letters would be perfect for my little builders and I was delighted when my son’s kindergarten teacher pulled a set out to show us at parent night this year. I’ve seen magnet toys using these same curve and line shapes but I think my kids would prefer the satisfaction of physically snapping the pieces together.
  • National Geographic First Big Books $10.76 (preschool – 3rd grade) and Smithsonian: The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth (3rd – 7th grade) $17.99 – I’m a big fan of leaving books all over the house for the kids to discover pretty much from birth.  My pre-reader  and emerging-reader will each spend up to an hour perusing engaging picture books trying to glean information from them on their own or making up their own narratives so I love these beautiful books for school-aged children as well as toddlers and preschoolers. The First Big Book of Space is our current favorite.

Top learning toys for quiet time: play alone games - love that my kids are building brainpower with these while I get stuff done or have one-on-one time with their sibling.

Single Player Games

We’re big on engaging activities that develop critical thinking skills, which is why I was psyched to add this list of single player games to the gift guides.  I love the idea of having an array of logic games that challenge different skills for my kids to choose from during quiet time.  Plus, each of these games are just plain cool (and many just as enticing to adults as they are to the younger set).

  • Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie $19.99 (kids no longer mouthing toys – 6 years) – This open-ended toy provides hands-on experiences with early math concepts such as sorting, counting, number sense, patterning, and beginning addition and subtraction. The pie has a removable sorting tray that allows children to sort and count the 60 fruits and veggies in many ways. Place the sorting cards into the bottom of the pan to provide visual cues that support success. Jumbo tweezers are included to reinforce fine motor skills needed for handwriting and the top crust can be used as a storage bowl when sorting. This simple toy gets tons and tons of glowing reviews from parents like this, “My two-and-a-half year old has a blast with this. She understands sorting by color or fruit type and she is content doing so for up to an hour at the dining room table while I make dinner. I love finding toys that allow her to think and use her imagination that don’t involve screen time.” and when kids are done with pattern making and sorting, they use it for dramatic play too!
  • Learning Resources Mini Muffin Match Up $20.78 (non-mouthing kids – 5 years) – The first thing to say about this toy is, of course, not to leave a child alone with it if they still put things in their mouth. Once you’re out of that stage, though, this is a truly AWESOME way to keep young kids occupied for a really long time. Moms figured out long ago that letting kids sort things in a muffin tin is a great quiet time activity. This play set expands on that idea by adding in multicolored mini muffins, dice, and cards that can be placed inside the muffin tin for sorting and math purposes. There are also some interestingly shaped tweezers for fine motor work. All in all this one has A LOT of play-ability.
  • Educational Insights Design and Drill Activity Center $25.02 (3 – 6 years) – This toy has been a big hit in our house and is consistently one of our very best-sellers each year on the gift guide.  It’s a pattern building toy disguised as a construction toy that has a very cool and easy-to-use working drill.  Both my 3 year old and 5 year old spent lots of quiet time occupied with this toy and we highly recommend it for both girls and boys!
  • Castle Logix $21.25 (3 – 8 years) and Camelot Jr. $24.00 (4 – 8 years) – The entire line of single player puzzle games from SmartGames gets such stellar reviews that it was hard not to recommend all of them!  The bold colors of these two 3-D wooden castle puzzles especially caught my eye. Assemble the wooden blocks and towers to match the challenges included in the booklet. With simple puzzles for inexperienced builders to complex puzzles that will challenge skilled architects, these puzzles serve to develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities. We bought Castle Logix for my then 3 year old last Christmas and she really enjoys playing with it alone for quiet time as well as with me. There are 4 levels of puzzle difficulty which means this game has also done a great job of growing with her and continues to be a favorite a year later.
  • Marble Run – 103 pieces $34.95 (3 – 10 years) – This one is a classic for a reason. Kids have always loved (and will always love) building cool structures and watching marbles spin and drop down them. This is a perfect game to play alone or with others so it can be used for quiet time or play dates plus it’s great developmentally for fine motor skills, critical thinking skills, spatial awareness and more and this set is rated highly for durability. My only caution is to be careful of small marbles that can be a choking hazard to young kids who still like to put things in their mouths, including younger siblings who may be nearby.
  • Chocolate Fix $17.19 (7+ years) – Similar to Soduku but made much more fun with the addition of yummy looking chocolate pieces, this single player logic game challenges players (or teams of players) to figure out where to place all of the chocolates on the board according to visual cues. The game gets amazingly high reviews and I love that the chocolate pieces are extremely enticing to both boys and girls. It’s made my ThinkFun which is one of our favorite producer of high quality games for kids.
  • Solitary Chess $19.99 (8 – 12 years) – This single player game takes it to the next level by using chess moves to solve logic puzzles. It’s the perfect thing for practicing emerging chess skills when there’s no one available to play with, as one reviewer wrote, “WOW! What a fantastic way to learn the rules of chess! Early challenges help new players get used to the various moves each chess token can make, and there’s a handy reference provided just in case… Great brain exercise in strategy and planning… I would recommend this game to any game lover, whether a chess newbie or someone who has been playing for years – it is a blast, and the packaging design allows it to pack all together and travel easily.” Side Note: This game goes beautifully with No Stress Chess (a really smart game introducing beginners to the mechanics of chess in phases).
  • Sciencewiz Cool Circuits $18.17 (5 – 12 years) This single player logic game is one of the coolest I’ve seen. Progressively difficult pattern cards are laid over the base and neon pieces are then placed on top of them to create a circuit. Once the circuit is complete, it lights up and plays music. Watch the video in the Amazon link and I’m pretty sure you’ll want one as much as I do.
  • eeBoo Design Tiles an Exploratory Activity for Creative Visual Play $28.99 (5 – 15 years) – eeBoo products have always been a favorite of mine (we especially love their color-based Go Fish game for younger kids). Their stunning graphics make them super appealing to kids and adults alike.  These design tiles are certainly no exception. They can be used to complete challenging puzzles or in an open-ended fashion to make all new creations. Critical thinking AND creativity –  that’s my kind of toy!
  • IQ Twist $9.99 (6+ years) – This compact, award-winning multi-level logic game contains 100 challenges suitable for all ages. It’s small size makes it ideal for car rides and perfect to slip in someone’s stocking this year.
  • Perplexus Rookie $17.70 (6 – 8 years) for younger kids, Perplexus Maze Game $18.00 (6 – 12 years), and Perplexus Epic $23.81 (6-12 years) for experienced players – Perplexus looks like one of those games that you just can’t help but pick up and play when it’s sitting on a table in front of you and, judging by the massive amounts of positive reviews, it is.  This one is great for developing fine-motor skills, critical thinking, spatial planning skills, and hand-eye coordination. Plus I love that it’s battery-free and completely self-contained within the sphere so there aren’t any pieces to get lost!
  • Laser Maze Logic Game $28.95 (8 – 15 years) – This one uses a real life laser. Your kids (and your husband) will think that in itself is pretty rad. Players will build sequential reasoning and planning skills while working on reflecting and splitting the laser beam using mirrors and targets on a puzzle grid to reach their goal.

Top learning toys for quiet time: mess-free art supplies - Perfect when you need to cook dinner, do laundry, etc.!

Sensory Play & Mess-Free Art

If you’ve spent any time at all here at Modern Parents Messy Kids, then you know we’re a big fan of getting creative with the kids (even if you haven’t, you could probably figure that out from our name).  Although it doesn’t always work out, open-ended art time is something I strive to give my children as often as possible.  

Often a simple paper pad and some crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors will do just fine (these are always favorites of ours for stocking stuffers). But it’s also nice to have a well-stocked art cabinet, or drawer, for when standard coloring and painting gets a little old.  Also adding in a few mess-free options makes it easier to squeeze in art time while you’re getting stuff done or spending one-on-one time with another child.

  • Aquadoodle Classic Mat $20.75 (2+ years) (and these accessories look super fun too) – I’ll admit, I wasn’t super impressed with the idea of the aquadoodle at first – it seemed a little limited. But then my friend nabbed one at a consignment store and my mind was completely changed at our next play date. The kids really took to it and it was so easy to set them up and then we were able to (gasp) actually sit down on the couch and have a conversation together.  It makes sense – they love their magnadoodle and this is basically just a bigger version of that with better accessories that more than one child can play with together.
  • Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Books $4.99 (3 – 10 years) – It will truly surprise you how engaged your kids are with these deceptively simple (and inexpensive!) reusable books. My parents gave the kids a couple a few years ago for Christmas and they’ve been a consistent stand-by for us every since.  Each of the books contain a series of background pages and hundreds of various sticker clings that can be positioned over and over on them.  There are tons of book themes to choose from too. Along with quiet time, they are surprisingly useful on long car rides (despite their large size) and we always grab them when heading to someone’s house who doesn’t have younger children and is without toys for them.
  • Classic Doodler with 2 Stampers $18.21 (3 – 7 years) and Classic Etch-A-Sketch $14.99 (3-10) – These quintessential mess-free art toys do double duty, serving as both the perfect quiet time toy and the ultimate travel toy.  Get both and keep them on-hand at all times, you won’t be sorry.
  • Crayola Color Wonder Paper $4.97, which works with Color Wonder Markers $7.95, Color Wonder Paints $13.95 and Color Wonder Finger Paints $7.95 – The crayola color wonder series is another way to set the kids up for art time and be able to comfortably walk away for 10 minutes without worrying about the state of your furniture when you return.  Although a little spendy to keep a never ending supply on-hand, these can be a life-saver and are great presents to ask for from grandparents and other relatives. We have the travel tote with mini markers and the kids love using them during car trips.
  • Play-Doh Case of Colors $9.99 along with this Play-Doh Clay Center with Storage Case $29.99 (2 – 10 years) – Although not completely mess-free, Play-doh really is the ultimate quiet time art toy.  It’s unbelievably engaging to kids of all ages and, as long as you prep your space well with a table cloth or large placemats, allows for quick and easy cleanup.  Of course you can always make your own, but I like to also have a few tubs of the pre-made stuff on hand for when we don’t have time.  I also highly recommend the clay center with storage case.  It’ll give your kids tons of tools to keep them occupied and you a handy place to store them all when they’re done.
  • Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $50.21 (3 – 7 years) – Photography is an amazing art to introduce to your children at a young age.  Encouraging them to get behind the lens gives them a different perspective on their surroundings as well as control of their world. Plus, if you tend to take a lot of photos of your kids (ahem), getting them into photography will make them more likely to put up with your shutter bug tendencies. We’ve had a few digital kid cameras in the past and, while the kids have always been excited about them, they all were difficult for the kids to operate on their own and broke easily.  So I’ve been on the lookout for a better designed kid camera for quite a while and this Oppenheimer award winning version is it!  We got it for the kids for Christmas and their favorite feature has to be that with the flip of a switch this camera will instantly project captured images up onto a wall (cool!). Coming in a close second are all the funny clip art images you can superimpose onto the photos within the camera. Big buttons and screen, along with durability, good photo quality, storage of 1000 photos at a time and those instant special effects means the kids continue to reach for it for play time again and again.

 

Top learning toys for quiet time: puzzles recommended by age - love this entire gift guide!

Puzzles

Puzzles are HUGE at our house.  In fact, if I could only have 3 things for the kids to play with all day long it would be a pile of books, a set of blocks, and a stack of puzzles. Here are examples of  our favorites types of puzzle for each age range to get you started on your own collection.

  • Ravensburger Adorable Animals My First Puzzles, 2-Piece $9.62 (1+ years) – Award-winning first puzzles to help develop fine-motor skills, problem-solving, and independent play.
  • Melissa & Doug: Wooden Farm Puzzle $15.99 and  First Shapes Jumbo Puzzle $9.99 (1+ years) – All Melissa & Doug puzzles are also great in my books, especially those for the really young kiddos.
  • Melissa & Doug Fishing & Bug Catching Magnetic Game Bundle $18.45 (2+ years) – These do double duties as both puzzles and games that really help to build fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • Doc McStuffin Wood Puzzle Box Set $11.99 (3+ years) - We have several of these wooden box sets and they have been beloved by the kids since we got our first one for C’s 3rd birthday. A quick Amazon search will reveal sets featuring several different characters too so you can pick your child’s favorite.
  • Melissa & Doug Solar System Floor Puzzle $11.99 (3+ years) USA Floor Puzzle $12.74 (5+ years), and World Map Floor Puzzle $12.16 (5+ years) – Large floor puzzles are great to introduce around ages 3 or 4. We have all three of these and our 5 year old has loved them for quite a while.  It amazes me that he can construct the entire map of the US completely on his own.
  • Ravensburger 60 piece puzzles starting at $6.08 (4+ years) and Ravensburger 100 piece puzzles starting at $7.24 (6+ years) – Around the time our son turned 5 he was ready for these 60 and 100 piece puzzles.  Ravensburger is a classic puzzle company that always gets high marks for quality and craftsmanship.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Santa left one or two of these under the tree for many years to come.
  • Crocodile Creek Puzzles starting at $5.69 (10 – 24 piece mini puzzles for 2 1/2 – 4 years and 100 piece puzzles in a bag for 5+ years) – These puzzles are really gorgeous and so different from the standard puzzles you’ll find at most big box stores. I especially love the easy storage/travel capabilities of the 100 piece puzzles that come in a small, re-sealable bag and at the price they make great stocking stuffers.

The kids magazines for quiet time or special time - great ideas so mom can get stuff done or spend some one on one time with a sibling. My toddler and preschooler absolutely love getting their magazines in the mail and they're great for both bonding time and quiet time.

Magazines

My dad started sending my kids Highlights Hi-Five Magazine a couple of years ago and it was one of the best presents they ever received.  They love regularly getting their own mail almost as much as they love reading each issue.  Since then, we’ve discovered a whole range of engaging and educational magazine subscriptions for kids. (We currently receive Highlights Hi-Five, Chirp, and Zoobooks.)

The cool thing is that many have various series for different ages so the kids can start young and progress on to the next series as they get older (and with most, you can switch the subscription at any time). Since I have pre-readers and an emerging-reader, we read a lot of these stories together but even now these magazines can still be good for quiet time as many of them contain puzzles and activities that the kids can do alone.  I’m sure these subscriptions will be worth their weight in gold once the kids are totally reading on their own too.

  • Highlights (6 – 12 years), Highlights High Five (2 – 6  years), and Highlights Hello (0 – 2  years) $34.95/12 months – Highlights is a total classic in quality children’s literature.  From science projects and foreign languages, to jokes and puzzles, the content in these magazines will capture your child’s attention and regular features every month give kids a sense of familiarity that makes them comfortable even when faced with material that challenges their growing brains.
  • Owl (9 – 13 years), Chickadee (6 – 9 years), and Chirp (3 – 6 years) $34.95/12 months – A long-standing Canadian series of children’s magazines based on a different editorial theme each month.  The issues are packed with interactive stories, puzzles, animal features, and science experiments to educate and entertain readers as well as topics ranging from sports and the environment, to pop culture and peer relationships for older readers.
  • Cricket (9-14 years), Spider (6 – 9 years), Ladybug (3 – 6 years) and Babybug (6 mos – 3 years) $28.95/12 months – The introductory series, Babybug, is a unique board-book style magazine full of the highest-quality content available from the world’s best children’s writers and artists. The series progresses to enchanting stories, poems, and activities with Ladybug and Spider and fiction and classic literature as well as nonfiction stories on culture, history, science, and the arts for preteens in Cricket.
  • Ask (7 – 1o years) $28.95/12 months – An innovative and award-winning children’s publication that focuses on the arts and sciences, it includes topics and themes that children have a natural curiosity about, such as the human body, Earth, animals, and nature.
  • Zoobooks (6 – 12 years) $29.95 – Each issue is themed around a specific animal or group of animals, discussing habits and habitat in depth. The most unique features of each animal are broken down and explained at a child’s level. For species that are extinct or becoming extinct, children are encouraged to take action to ensure those animals’ futures. The last four pages of each edition offer a pull-out activity booklet filled with games, puzzles, and coloring pages.
  • National Geographic Little Kids (3 – 6 years) $15.00/12 months – Includes articles on animals from around the world, science, and cultural topics discussing life in other countries. The large text and engaging full-color photographs help beginning readers explore the content on their own, and exciting activities throughout the magazine keep your child’s interest so learning becomes fun. Issues include age-appropriate mazes, matching games, counting exercises, and rhymes. Each issue also includes things parents and kids can do together, such as crafts, science activities, and recipes to try at home.

Side Note: One thing we appreciate about all of these subscriptions is the lack of ads pushing various toys to the kids.  While we enjoy National Geographic Little Kids for that reason, sadly, the same cannot be said for the next step up in the series, National Geographic Kids.

Gift Guide: Best Learning Toys for Quiet Time - LOVE this list for getting stuff done or one-on-one time with siblings!

*Post contains affiliate links.

If you like these recommendations, I encourage you to pin or bookmark them for later when you’re ready to start shopping.  I would also love it if you forwarded the list on to your parenting friends or shared it on facebook – trust me, your friends will thank you for the help and you get to be the cool mom (or dad) with all the best resources. It’s a win-win.

Also, don’t forget for even more recommendations and alerts when we spot our gift guide items on sale:

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P.S. See all 10 of our 2015 Gift Guides here.

 

P.P.S. Looking to simplify and connect more? We can help! Check out our organizational eBook and printables pack – buy both and save 71% on the eBook!

Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life eBook & 2014 Printables Pack - This is the year I WILL be more organized!!

 

 

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Siouxzy November 5, 2013 at 2:58 am

Wow! This is an amazing collection of gifts. I want to buy everything. Thank you.

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Steph (MPMK Founder) November 5, 2013 at 4:35 am

Thank you! They take a lot of time to put together but I really love researching them and sharing them with you guys. The only drawback is that they make me want to buy everything too!

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Julie November 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

I seriously could have my Christmas shopping done from this list alone! Can’t wait for the others to come out. They were a lifesaver last year. My kids 6 and 4 just don’t have the “I wants” so the holiday times are always a little extra stressful trying to figure out exactly what to get!

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Steph (MPMK Founder) November 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Happy to help Julie and that’s really great the your kids aren’t experiencing the “I wants” for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you can pick the toys that will give you the most bang for your buck :).

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Tenile November 5, 2013 at 11:23 am

Wow! That’s awesome! Thanks so much for all of your hard work! My kiddos will thank you:-)

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Megan November 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’ve been patiently waiting for the lists to come out. So excited to look through everything. Thanks for taking the time to put these together, they are a lifesaver!

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Steph (MPMK Founder) November 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Thanks for being patient Megan :) Hoping to have ALL the lists out next week!

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Cassandra November 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Thank you so much for this list! I was all over the place trying to figure out where to start my Christmas list. You have made it so much easier. I look forward to recommendations.

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Andrea November 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Wow! I follow your website…but have never commented. I just want to say a big THANK-YOU for these fantastic ideas. As a new mama, my daughter is still too little for many of these toys, but they are great ideas for the future. I love how organized, and detailed your information is!!! Thanks so much!!

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Steph (MPMK Founder) November 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

My pleasure Andrea – be sure to check back next week for all the guides. We’ll be adding a special baby and young toddler guide this year by reader request :).

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Seana Yates November 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Very cool list of toys. I added a bunch to my amazon gift list. :)

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Amy K. November 5, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I have no problem finding fun gifts for my 5 year old, but the 11 year old is getting to be SO HARD to buy for. I saw a bunch of things on this list that I think he’ll love!

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K November 6, 2013 at 12:36 am

Thanks so much for these guides! We own and love a number of these toys, so I’m thrilled to find so many more in a similar vein that my kids will likely enjoy. This will be so helpful for the grandparents for Christmas shopping.

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Steph (MPMK Founder) November 6, 2013 at 12:40 am

Glad you’re enjoying them – these lists always get forwarded on to the aunts an grandparents in our family every year too!

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Kate of Nearly Crafty November 6, 2013 at 1:40 am

I pretty much added every item to our wishlists. Thank you so much for this!

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lynne November 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm

This was the quickest and easiest holiday purchase year ever! I realized Hanukkah is crazy early and sent my husband this blog entry. He culled the list to a set of favorites within a day, I cut the list down to my favorites that night and we ordered. And now we also have some great options for the next year, options for family who ask what to get for the kids, etc. Thank you.

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Kesha Evans November 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

This is fantastic and extremely helpful. Huge thanks.

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Renee November 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Thank you so much for putting these amazing lists together! It has so much detail and is extremely well organized. My boys are 2 and 4 years old so I’m always on the hunt for age-appropriate fun, yet educational, toys, including those that are fun for the entire family. Thanks to your site, I was able to add a lot of great items to our Christmas lists for not only my boys but also my niece (5) and nephew (2), that I otherwise would not have known about! I’ll be sure to refer back to your site when their birthdays roll around next year too. Thanks again, I am passing your site along to all of my family and friends.

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Borntotoddle May 20, 2014 at 4:41 am

I really like this gift and I will be buying this on her next birthday.

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